Food in Disasters and Emergencies

 Let’s face it, a 72-hour emergency kit does not provide enough food. Yes, you can eat for those three days. But, what about beyond that?


We’ll look into more about these emergency kits on other web pages, but let’s assume you'll be in your home for the duration of the emergency, including the immediate aftermath. What kinds of food should have have and for how long?

What Kind of Food?

The simple answer is store the types of food you and those in your household will eat.

Too often food storage involves big pails of wheat, rice, or beans. While this may be suitable for long term food storage, if you don't have any way to prepare it--or you simply don't want to eat it--then it's probably best to spend your money on food you will eat.

That said, in an emergency you may not be able to prepare and cook your normal foods.

If you have canned foods, make sure you have at least a couple manual (non-electric) can openers.

Foods that don't need cooking will be easiest to prepare in an emergency, but often these types of food don't have shelf lives of more than a few years.

Foods that require minimal preparation, like dehydrated or freeze dried where water is added, often have a long shelf life. Typically freeze dried food tastes better, but it is more expensive.

In an emergency--like the immediate aftermath of an earthquake where you have no electricity, gas, or running water--the first few days should be primarily foods that can require little or no preparation to eat. You will have enough other stress to deal with that it's beneficial to not add how you're going to prepare your food. The most preparation you will want is to boil water.

And it may be beneficial to have sufficient quick-prep foods to last you and your household a week or two. 

Once you get into a routine of how things can be done it'll be easier to add foods that require additional preparation.

How Much Food?

While you need emergency food, in your kit and extended kit, in your home you should plan to have a minimum of two-weeks’ worth of food for each person.

Two-weeks is the absolute minimum. Surprisingly most people have much less than that on hand, many with less than a week’s worth of food. Two-weeks of normal, everyday food is good but it'd be better to have two-weeks worth of emergency food...food that requires little to no preparation. Food that requires adding water and maybe heating up. Keep in mind that electricity and running water may not be working. Add some normal food that doesn't require any preparation to keep your palette not feeling too out of sorts.

After the two-week supply, the next step is to shoot for a 1-month, and then make a goal to get a 90-day supply of food. Remember, two weeks of this is the emergency level food. So, add two weeks of your more normal diet. Just remember that cooking may be more restricted than you're used to. And, depending on the emergency there still may not be power or running water.

A side comment. In some countries there are laws against food hoarding, meaning it is illegal have more food than is needed for a specified period of time. Even in the United States of America there is the potential for the government to restrict how much food and other supplies you can have on hand, specifically in the event of a long-term emergency (such as a war) or martial law.

If you have a concern about the legality of food storage, make some phone calls to inquire about any food storage laws in the area.

As for the United States, I’m not aware of any laws that would prohibit you from storing food and other supplies. Because most disasters are not nationwide, and usually do not affect more than a small region, it is safe to plan on you being able to keep your food.

However, it's best to not talk to others about how much food or other supplies you may have. The best course of action is to downplay your preparations, limiting your discussion to the short-term preparations, if you even talk about what you have.

If possible it's a good idea to make sure your food is not visible. If you happen to have food stored that you don't like, or which is past it's expiration, don't get rid of it...unless you just don't have room for it. This food can be useful if you need to barter with someone, to exchange food for something else you need.

Here are your two "emergency" food goals.

  • 4-day emergency/bug-out food that you can take with you if you have to leave. 1 week (or more) is better if you can leave in a vehicle.
  • 2-week emergency food storage at home.

After you get the 2-weeks, work on a month and then build towards the 90 days. More than 90-days is great, but don't get stuck on long-term. Focus on the short-term and then intermediate. If you focus on the long-term it can become too overwhelming and then becomes less likely that you will follow through.

Some Suggested Emergency Food Supplies

When beginning and building your emergency food supplies and food storage, here's a few things to keep in mind.

  • Choose foods that you and your family eat, will eat, or can eat.
  • Remember any special dietary needs.
  • In an emergency situation, avoid foods that will make you thirsty.

If there are infants or young children, don't forget to include food needs for them.

And for you (and others) include some comfort/stress foods. 

Here's a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables
  • Protein or fruit bars
  • Dry cereal or granola
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried fruit
  • Canned juices
  • Non-perishable pasteurized milk
  • High-energy foods

Don't forget to include a manual can opener!

More information at Ready.gov Suggested Emergency Food Supplies

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